Update (3 years later)

It has been awhile since I’ve written anything here, specifically 1043 days. I happened to be in the Chestnut Hill area and reminiscing about my time at Boston College and thought back to this blog. I was shocked to see that people still visit it, and my study guides still regularly get downloaded. I hope some of my insights into studying helped at least one person out there, and hopefully people looking into going to BC found some useful information here.

I am now less than one year away from graduating medical school, and I can say that BC prepared me well. The biggest hurdle of medical school is passing Step 1, and having a good work ethic is key to doing well on the exam. I felt the difficulty of the classes at BC, and the work required to succeed instilled a very strong work ethic. Sure you will study more than you ever have at medical school, but it is worth it. I went from doing very little homework on weekends at BC to using my weekends in medical school to catch up in studying, often putting in 8-10 hours of work throughout the day. If I treated college like a 9-5 job, medical school was an 8-6 job 7 days a week. But I felt well prepared, and other students from BC felt the same way. I still keep in touch with at least 10 of my friends who are at medical school and all of them are succeeding. My score on Step 1 was a full standard deviation above average, and I felt a lot of that was due to the fantastic base of knowledge my biology degree from BC gave me.

That being said, one thing I will say is medical school is expensive. I will be leaving school next year with 250k of debt from medical school alone, and that is on the low side due to a lower cost of living and a tuition that is less than BC’s. I will be the first to admit I had family contributions helping me pay for BC, and if I had 100-200k more of debt from undergrad on top of my medical school loans it would be a lot scarier. Some people will argue that choosing a community college for two years or a state school for all four years is the way to go. I would argue against community college just because there is an unfortunate stigma that the classes are easy. For some reason, state schools also have a stigma against them, but I know plenty of people who got into medical school from a state school. I am not trying to discourage anyone from attending a costly private school, but I am mentioning it because I know classmates who have 400-500k of debt between undergrad and medical school, and that continues to accumulate interest and can seem insurmountable at times.

Another thing I will suggest to anyone reading is to follow your passion. I have tried to do things in life not because it looks good on a resume, but because I enjoy doing them. Working in EMS was something I genuinely enjoyed, and now I find myself going into Emergency Medicine. It is insane to look back and realize that meeting an EMT on my floor freshman year (who encouraged me to take the class) changed the course of my life. Since entering medical school, I have also pursued things because I was interested in them. One thing that came out of nowhere was writing a book based on an online writing prompt! Of course I had to write it under a pen name to separate my professional and personal lives, but it was something that took up a lot of my free time during my first year of medical school. The book is proof that medical school, while difficult, does not consume your entire life if you don’t let it.

(Shameless self-plug: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1730797105)

I know it’s easy to say “just get a 3.7 GPA, a 510 (or preferably higher) on the MCAT, and take part in a couple of experiences related to healthcare” but that is really what it takes these days to get into medical school. It seems daunting when you enter as a freshman because it is. To ask an immature (no offense, I was once there) 18 year old who is away from home for an extended period of time for the first time in his or her life to succeed immediately is impossible to predict. Try to avoid putting pressure on yourself at the beginning of college. Too many times I see people post about how their dreams of medical school are over because they got a 3.0 their first semester. Do not give up! Assess what was wrong, whether it was not studying far enough in advance, partying too much, taking too many challenging courses at one time, or simply just being homesick, look for ways to correct the issues. I look back now on college and realize that if I studied for classes like I do in medical school now, a 4.0 would have been easy and the MCAT would have been a cinch. Study habits are everything, but college is also supposed to be enjoyed. Take advantage of the free time you will never have again to go to the gym, explore Boston, and have a good time with friends!

Hopefully this makes some sort of sense, if it’s too long here are the main points:

  • BC prepares you well for medical school
  • BC is expensive, medical school is also expensive
  • Read my book if you are bored (it has nothing to do with medical school but does have some science in it)
  • Don’t put too much pressure on yourself, but also don’t have too much fun. College is a time to be enjoyed, but at the end of the day you are going there to set yourself up for a good career.

I shall post again in another 1043 days, and it’s slightly depressing that I still won’t have received a single attending paycheck by then.

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Final Thoughts

Since a couple of people have asked if I would do a wrap-up post, I decided I would! I applied to 24 MD schools with a 3.78cGPA/sGPA (they were identical which I found funny) and a 510 MCAT, I ended up with 7 II’s (interview invites) (but I only went to 5), and 3 acceptances (2 off of wait lists). I submitted my AMCAS application the very first day, and all of my secondaries were submitted by the first week of August. I was fortunate enough to get early interviews in September, so I did not really have the long wait that awaits many people during the application cycle. Because of the early interviews, I was accepted on October 15th, which was the first day you can hear from schools that you applied regular decision to (I did not apply early decision anywhere). I am excited to start the next four years of my life, and I wish everyone reading this the best of luck!

For those of you reading from BC, or thinking about coming to BC, I’ll offer a bit of a reflection on the premed track here. It’s hard to get very good grades in premed classes at BC, because there is a significant amount of grade deflation. Most classes scale to a B-/C+ border, so to get the average GPA for MD school (a 3.5-3.6) you have to do significantly better than the mean. But while it may be harder than a lower ranked school or your state school, I feel that BC has prepared me, and the others I know who got into medical school, to face the rigors of medical school. Every professor I had was willing to work with me, and I took advantage of every opportunity I was given by professors. Freshman year our general chemistry professor offered office hours where he would give us problems very similar to the weekly quiz and then after we did them he would go through the problems and discuss our approach to solving them. You would think out of a class of 200 that the room would be packed. It wasn’t. There were only 3 of us there every single week, and so the professor got to know me and worked with me on my problem solving skills.

Where I ran into trouble at BC was with the advising. I had heard horror stories from classmates about going into the advising office as a freshman, and being told because of their first semester GPA they had no chance at medical school and they should just give up. After hearing that, I never went into their office for advising. If your first semester (or even freshman year) GPA is low, worry about improving your study habits and figuring out why you aren’t doing as well as you can. Everyone who is accepted to BC has the potential to do well in all of their classes. As a tutor, I found most people failed because they lacked good study habits from high school (start early, and you can’t expect to pass a test studying the night before), or they simply didn’t understand the material. Medical schools see an upward trend and many people get accepted who did poorly their freshman year. It is a time of adjustments and for some people it is a struggle that they figure out a semester or a year later. There are also an increasing number of ways to improve upon a GPA after undergrad such as a SMP (Special Masters Program) or a Post-Bacc, which help medical school see you can handle the workload. I found that instead of going to the BC Premed department for advising, I relied on the online community along with the older students in the clubs/organizations I was a member of.  There are so many people in your own class, or the classes above you, who are going through the same struggles (or have conquered them) who can help you through any difficulties. In my experience, the BC premed office has just exacerbated the struggles that students undergo, and I stayed far away from that office unless I was demanding that they send out my committee letter in July and not August

I started this blog because I was bored during the summer, but I hope that it has helped some of you who have read it or used the study guides. If it has helped only one person, writing this was worth it.

Interviews

It is hard to describe the anxiety during the application process waiting for interviews. All my secondaries were submitted by the beginning of August, most of them within 2 weeks, and then the waiting period begins. I was lucky enough to get a few interview invites in late july, and early august, which made waiting a little easier. After attending the early interviews, the waiting period began until I could hear on October 15th (or later). In the meantime I kept checking my email and waiting for more interview invites. It was a gap of about 2.5 months between interview invites. So a lesson to be learned is that you shouldnt be checking SDN to see which schools offer II’s each day, because thats a way to go insane. Focus on things like school, friends, and family instead.

At the interviews themselves, expect a full day event. Most interviews contain anywhere from 8-20 people, and begin by meeting the dean of the medical school. There is usually a brief introduction to the school, and then a tour and lunch. The timing of the interview varies by school, as does the number and style, and I would urge all of you to look online to find the differences in interview style. There is traditional, either closed or open, and MMI, each of which have their own pros and cons. At all the interviews I have attended, the interviews were a general conversation and not a pressure packed interview like I thought it would be going in. The questions varied, but each interviewer really wanted to get to know me and my reasons both for choosing medicine and choosing to apply to that school.

In terms of preparing for interviews, I prepared a sheet of notes to look over, with common questions I found online. I used only bullet points because I did not want to sound scripted. I also attended a 1 on 1 interview prep session with the BC Career Center, so that I could make sure my responses were well thought out, and that I could stress the benefits of a BC Jesuit education. Before each interview, either during the car trip or plane ride, I would read both my AMCAS application, especially the personal statement and activity section, and the secondary application for the school I am interviewing at.

So far so good, every interview has gone well. Its a long cycle, there is plenty of anxious waiting time. Try not to let it get to you.

MCAT 2015 Wrap Up

I took the new MCAT on May 22, after self-studying for almost 6 months. The reason I decided to self-study instead of taking a review class was that I felt the test companies would not know exactly what the test was about. Now that a good amount of people have taken the test, the review companies will have a better grasp on material covered.

How I studied:
I did 6 months of studying with Kaplan’s 7 book set (http://www.amazon.com/Kaplan-Complete-7-Book-Subject-Review/dp/1618656449) which I felt adequately prepared me. I read through the books over winter break, just taking in the material covered, and not taking any notes. I would recommend reading the official AAMC guide to what is on the MCAT beforehand (https://www.aamc.org/students/download/377882/data/mcat2015-content.pdf) (I also am attaching a shorter version that someone posted online). I then went through the books and took notes on all the books. I WOULD HIGHLY RECOMMEND MAKING FLASHCARDS FOR THE PSYCH/SOC BOOK. There is a lot of rote memorization in this section. I then did content review for the first 2-3 months. Finally, I took the first of the 3 kaplan FL exams that come with the set, and scored a 497. This score was not indicative of my percentage correct, so I would recommend ignoring the score and focus on the percent correct, at least until the AAMC releases its score guide. I then did more content review and practice problems until the exam. I was putting in probably 2 hours/day during the school week, 3-4 hours/day during the weekend, and then after school ended I had two weeks before the MCAT, and studied for 10-12 hours/day for the 2 weeks. My other FL scores were better than the first, and I got my percentage correct up to between 75-80% correct, which is where I was shooting for.

The actual MCAT
I arrived early and got to start at 7:30AM instead of 8:00 AM. You are allowed to take the first 10 minutes to write down any formulas. I think I wrote down some AA’s and some physics formulas I was weak on. I took the allotted time on each section, and I thought it was very indicative of the AAMC practice exam (CARS was harder on the real one).

Scores
I scored between the 80-90th percentile, which for me was right where I wanted to score. I am happy to answer any additional questions in the comments about my preparation or recommendations. I will be applying to med school this summer, hoping to avoid a gap year

Shorter version of topics

Tips for those applying this cycle, or looking to prepare for next cycle

BC’s premed committee and premed department do next to nothing to help their students prepare for the application cycle. I, along with most of my friends, have been forced to learn using a variety of online sources and 1st person accounts. I figured I would share some of the most important things I came across:

1) AMCAS opens for apps in early May, but you cannot submit officially until right around June 3rd. This gives you 1 month to work on you application. What you want to have already done is the personal statement (so that you can edit it over the month), and if you have the time, a description of all the activities you plan to list on AMCAS, along with a more detailed description of your 3 most important. I didn’t realize that you can expand on 3 activities, and my personal statement did that instead. This forced me to have to rework my entire personal statement, which took some time.

2) Send in your transcripts ASAP. I cannot stress this enough. I sent in my transcripts on the first day the AMCAS was open, and it still took 1-2 weeks to process. From what I am told, it takes longer if you wait longer. One additional “trick” is that the AMCAS will only calculate your cGPA and sGPA once, so if you send in your transcript before spring grades are available, medical schools will not see those grades right away. This is a bonus for those of us who had a less than stellar spring semester, but if you are relying on the spring semester grades to boost your GPA up, DONT send in the transcript early.

3) When to take the MCAT? Med schools are rolling admissions. That means that your app should be submitted ASAP in order to have the best chance at getting into a school. If you want an MCAT score back, taking the MCAT in April or earlier will guarantee that. It is common to hear that the July MCAT is the cutoff for “too late” if your application is on file. However, one can take the july MCAT and then update the schools with the new score. If you wait until May/June, there is a simple trick to avoid the huge verification line for AMCAS. Submit your AMCAS app without the MCAT score on the first day you are ready, and apply to a single school (preferably one lower on your list of wanting to attend). That way, when your score comes in, you can make the decision about whether or not to apply to additional schools. This saves money, especially if you cannot decide which range of schools you want to apply to.

4) Ask for your Letter of Rec early! It also never hurts to set a made up deadline about 1-2 weeks in advance of the actual deadline, so that the professor completes the letter sooner rather than later. This reduces the stress on you. I suggest asking for the letter mid-February, and then dropping by to check how it’s going in early april. Don’t wait too long because professors get busy later in the semester and may not want to write a letter for someone who came later.

5) Verification on AMCAS. I mentioned it briefly above, but it is important. It is common knowledge in the online community that the earlier you submit the primary app, the earlier you are verified. Submitting it even a week or so later can cause the wait time for verification to increase dramatically

Hopefully these are helpful. Good luck to anyone applying for this cycle!